Harley reinvents itself with off-roaders and electrics
Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Smaller bikes, electric engines and urban showrooms: Harley-Davidson is about to completely reinvent itself.
The Motor Company, faced with dwindling sales in its home market, hopes to broaden its appeal and boost sales with new models which, in 2019, will include the LiveWire, its first electric motorcycle. Harley-Davidson, known for its car-alarm triggering engine rumble, said the LiveWire would have no clutch and no gears, with the goal of making motorcycle-riding accessible to more people.
The LiveWire will be followed by more "twist and go" electric two-wheelers over the next few years that will be lighter and smaller - but the company has no plans to stop making big bikes and its new models will include more technology-advanced Touring and Cruiser motorcycle as well, with a range of new 975cc and 1250cc liquid-cooled V-twins led by the Pan America, Milwaukee’s first ever adventure tourer.
With sales rising in Asia and India, Harley-Davidson is developing smaller bikes with 250-500cc engines to make them more accessible in those regions - and it will also open smaller showrooms in urban areas to broaden its appeal. CEO Matt Levatich said: "Alongside our existing loyal riders, we want the next revolution of two-wheeled freedom to inspire future riders who haven’t yet even thought about the thrill of riding."
The Pan America ticks all the adventure-tourer boxes with an adjustable screen, heavy-duty inverted forks, a rear monoshock, radial-mount front brakes and tubeless spoked wheels running Michelin Anakee Wild tyres.
It will be the first of 16 new models using two all-new engines - one in 500 and 750cc formats and the one you see here in 975 and 1250cc variants - all liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twins with dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and six-speed gearboxes.
The 1250cc Pan America 1250 and Streetfighter 975 will be released in 2020, to be followed by the Custom 1250 in 2021, and more models ranging in size from 500-1250cc during 2022.
More than 12 000 customers rode the 2014 Livewire prototypes, and the general feedback was that they were competent streetbikes and fun to ride. Since then battery density has improved and costs have come done, so the 2019 production model, due in showrooms in little more than a year from now, should be the complete package, well equipped to compete with the leaders in this segment, such as the Zero.
It will be followed by a range of lighter, entry-level battery bikes, right down to models little more than electric bicycles, and the hope is that most of them will bypass licencing laws in some US States, which will mean that anybody tall enough to touch the ground on both sides at the same time and willing to wear a bicycle helmet will be legally allowed to ride them on the roads.
The new products and strategic initiatives come as the company comes under criticism from US president Donald Trump for its decision to move production of motorcycles sold in Europe out of the United States to avoid retaliatory tariffs the EU is imposing on American exports.
In all, Harley-Davidson said it plans to release 100 new motorcycles over the next 10 years. During that time, the company also wants to gain two million new riders to reverse declining sales.
United States sales are down 8.7 percent at the halfway point of 2018, and sales in Canada have fallen 4.9 percent over the past six months. At the same time, riders are getting older. The Motorcycle Industry Council says the median age of American motorcycle owners has gone up from 32 to 47 since 1990. About 46 percent of riders are over 50; only about 10 percent are aged 30-34.
Samantha Kay, a Milwaukee resident who recently learned to ride a motorcycle, said she doesn't picture electric motorcycles when she thinks of Harley-Davidson, but she welcomed news of the LiveWire.
"I would be more inclined to buy it than I would a traditional motorcycle," said Kay, 25, adding that she rode a moped in high school and college and thinks the smaller, electric models would be easier to navigate in the city.
AP and IOL Motoring